|European Watercolors Gallery|
|The Album d'Authal, by Adrien de Montigny, Originally from the Collection of Charles de Cro˙|
|These magnificent, large-scale watercolors originate from the collection of Duke Charles de Cro˙, who ruled over vast land holdings in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, primarily in Flanders and parts of northern France. Each watercolor memorializes an estate or town that formed part of his dukedom, with the majority of these views surrounded by glorious borders comprised of imaginative and unusual combinations of natural history imagery, including cut tulips and other flowers, fruits and vegetables, and all sorts of wildlife, including owls, peacocks, dogs, monkeys, and other animals. A vast compendium of unusually large watercolors, they are works of extraordinary importance for the architectural history, topography, and history of northern France and Belgium during a time of marked social upheaval and change. They also represent a unique collection of museum-quality watercolors unlike anything that has become available for sale. They are of overwhelming esthetic quality, painted on vellum, the most elegant and princely medium; they have a noble provenance that has gone uninterrupted to the present day, and they are in perfect condition. This fortuitous combination of factors assures not only that their value will remain extremely high but that it will increase dramatically. |
In 1580, Charles de Cro˙ married Marie de Brimeu, widow of another nobleman who had domains in Artois and Picardy, as well as Orchimont and Agimont. In the same year his parents, Phillipe, the Third Duke of Cro˙, and Jeanne, dame de Comines and de Halluin, gave him the principality of Chimay and the princely title that went with it, and with their deaths in 1595 and 1581 respectively, he inherited even more titles and land, most of it in Flanders in present-day Belgium. By 1595, it had become clear that the management of his vast holdings required a high degree of administrative organization, and to this end Charles engaged his court painter, Adrien de Montigny of Valenciennes, to paint careful studies of the many castles, towns, and estates that he ruled. These splendid watercolors were the fruit of this enormous undertaking, executed between 1596 and 1598. Charles separated from Marie in 1584 and she regained her lands in 1599, and these works were done, therefore, at the pinnacle of his power in terms of wealth and land.
Despite the impetus for their creation having come from administrative needs, they are sumptuous, pristine watercolors of outstanding esthetic quality, clearly intended from their inception to be works of art above and beyond their documentary function. The borders are of different types, the simplest being black with gold or silver ornament, some having architectural details embellished by flowers and fruit, and some with a neutral background against which are placed birds, insects, flora and such, all depicted with striking naturalism. Each forms an unusual and engaging frame to the evocative view it frames. The views themselves are delicately nuanced and show Montigny's mastery of the difficult medium of watercolor, as distance is portrayed with skilled use of atmospheric perspective, the far hills fading towards blue tones, and the sky and fields are carefully modulated to evoke a particular season and time of day. Many of the foregrounds have images of local people engaged in daily activities, fishing, farming, or riding, and sometimes playing a musical instrument, creating a picture of overall social harmony in compositions that recall Pieter Bruegel.
The actual social situation at the time was far from harmonious, as the bitter and bloody struggle between the Netherlands and Phillip II of Spain had reached a climax. With the northern provinces - present-day Holland - having fought for and won independence, the southern regions, including much of present-day Belgium and northern France, remained under Spanish control and absorbed much of the fallout of the bitter war. Compounded by the struggle between the Catholic and Protestant factions, the period was one marked by social, political and religious upheaval that intertwined to create one of the most intense periods of turmoil in the history of early-modern Western Europe. Against this historical background, Charles de Cro˙ commissioned his court artist to paint these splendid views of his far-flung domain and to cloak them in the guise of perfect tranquility, emphasizing the abundance of the land in the borders with their cornucopias of flora and fauna, in a moment when this very patrimony was threatened by the war with Spain. These magnificent watercolors thus provided a sort of alluring escapism to their first owner, not unlike the distant but vivid pastoral evocation they offer to present-day viewers.
Provenance: Charles de Cro˙; his nephew, Alexandre d'Arenberg; by descent to Ludmilla d'Arenberg; her son Engelbert de Cro˙; by descent to the present owner.
|Medium: Watercolors on vellum: many with paintings on recto and verso|
Dimensions: approximately 20 ˝" x 15 Ľ" inches
|SELECTIONS FROM THIS WORK|
Cro˙, 17 Recto, The Center of the Village of Rotselaar
Cro˙, 31 Bas-Warneton
Cro˙, 37 Humbercourt
Cro˙, 39 Gorges
Cro˙, 48 Houvelin
Cro˙, 50 Roisnel
Cro˙, 73 Orchimont
Cro˙, 83 Rumel
The Château of Houdain from the Album de Cro˙ of Charles, 4th Duc d’Arschot 1596-1598
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